Family farms, once the backbone of the ag industry are becoming rare. Fertile farmland is being developed for housing as the population increases. Big farming co-ops buy up small farms for corporate farms.
Family-owned Grewal Brothers Farming of Madera grows a variety of crops on its 1,000 acre holdings. They began farming in Madera county in 1986.
Guni Grewal and his older sister and his parents immigrated to Yuba City from India when Guni was 7. In 1972, the family moved to a ranch in Cantuea Creek in Fresno County. That ranch was eventually sold to the Houlding family who grew tomatoes there for Contadina.
Guni now works with his brothers Ranbir and Bob on their 1,000 acres of crops. Guni and his wife Pam have four children. Ranbir and his wife Melissa have four kids and Bob and his wife Soila have three children.
Their father, Atma Singh Grewal, passed away in 1984.
Thre Grewals have 25 year-round employees and the workforce increases to 100 people during harvest.
“During harvest, the whole family turns out to help, from the smallest to the oldest, including nieces, nephews and my mother Sarjit,” Guni said.
He believes having kids work in the fields is a great motivator to get young people to pursue higher education because farming is hard work in harsh weather, he said.
“We raise nine varieties of peaches, four grape varietals, nine kinds of almonds and three types of pistachios, along with a plum orchard,” said Grewal.
The wine grapes they grow are sold to E. & J. Gallo Winery, while others are made into raisins contracted to Lion Raisins or sent to the cannery, Pacific Coast Producers, for fruit cocktail, Grewal said. The almonds go to either Blue Diamond or to the Minturn Nut Company, who export overseas.
“They are processed for raw almonds, or flavored, ground into flour or turned into almond milk,” he said.
After the family harvests its own crops, they do custom harvesting for other growers to keep the equipment in the field.
“My son Mike harvest almonds, Ranbir harvests grapes and Bob picks plums and pistachios for other growers,” said Guni.
During this period, Grewal runs back and forth making sure they have what they need to keep the harvesters functional.
Their operation has in the past been a victim of ag crimes. They had an orchard stripped of its crop just days before they were scheduled to pick the crop. They also had young trees ripped out of the ground not long after planting. He foresees a future when growers will have to hire security personnel or install fences around their orchards and vineyards.
“Our best defense are our neighbors,” he said. “Rick Cosyns, Steve Shafer and Brian Deniz are our neighbors. We watch out for each other.”
The growers recognize vehicles and people who don’t belong, he said. Odd or unknown vehicles are approached and the occupants questioned. If they say they work on a nearby ranch they verify their stories and call the sheriff if necessary.
Grewal also spends some of his time volunteering as a coach for the Madera American Little League, where he has managed a team for more than 25 years.